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Your Next Chauffeur May Be Your Car

Posted by Neal Leavitt on January 29th, 2014 at 7:34 pm

Wearables, wearables, wearables.

Attendees at CES earlier this month couldn’t avoid them – seemed like every other booth was pitching a smart watch or fitness app.

But the real ‘wow’ factor, in my humble opinion, was all the futuristic car technology on display. Automobiles are quickly evolving into moveable infotainment machines – and many major manufacturers – both foreign and domestic – unveiled prototypes that may be in a showroom near you quicker than you think.

“Cars will become self-aware where they can understand what’s happening inside and outside,” said Thilo Koslowski, an automotive analyst for market research firm Gartner. “We’re going to see a self-aware vehicle that looks out for you, controls the information and focuses on providing the right information at the right times to protect, inform and entertain you.”

Taking this even further, Roger Kay, who heads up market research firm Endpoint Technologies, recently wrote in Forbes that perhaps in less than 20 years, drivers will even have an ‘autopilot’ option, particularly on highways.

Kay said decision-making on a busy freeway is easier for a machine than a person, particularly when the machine can coordinate with other machines on the road.

“Traffic flows are better managed by an omniscient driving algorithm when the number of choices is limited: cars must all stay on the highway and move forward. But the driver will be able to take back control merely by touching the steering wheel, when, for example, he or she is looking for a parking space,” said Kay.

And at CES, we’re just on the cusp of seeing how intelligent cars may interact with each other and their drivers.

A few notable examples:

Jerry Garrett reported in the New York Times that Mercedes-Benz rolled out a new wearable interface that lets a smart watch monitor auto functions such as door locks, climate control, tire pressures, even an electric vehicle’s charge rate.

“Another Mercedes system would let a car talk to your house,” said Garrett. “The interface is with the Nest (recently purchased by Google for $3.2 billion), which can provide remote control of a home’s thermostat and monitoring of the smoke and carbon-monoxide alarms.”

Ford showed off its Vehicle-to-Vehicle (V2V) technology which uses 802.11p – a simplified form of Wi-Fi developed specifically for the automotive industry. According to Chris Ziegler of The Verge, V2V beams small pieces of info between nearby cars. Ford demonstrated a mode called ‘Where I Am’ that tells other cars your vehicle’s position, direction, speed, and more.

But Ziegler added that V2V is not quite ready for prime time.

“Extremely dense traffic can over-saturate the system, preventing it from working correctly-there are just too many cars in close proximity broadcasting their position at the same time. Also security and privacy concerns are more prevalent – a hacker spoofing a ‘Here I Am’ signal could cause cars on the road to behave erratically,” said Ziegler.

General Motors also announced it would build an optional 4G/LTE connection in 10 models available mid-year this year; one of these will be the Volt, Chevrolet’s plug-in hybrid. By 2015, most Chevrolet models will have these connections automatically built in, providing Wi-Fi to people inside their cars. AT&T will provide the connectivity.

All very exciting stuff; in fact, Kay summed up in his Forbes story what the future may portend – and what’s already here. Kay recently interviewed the CTO of Global Connected Consumer, a GM division. The CTO told Kay that when he was in a hotel in China he couldn’t remember whether he’d locked his car back in Detroit.

“He simply fired up a smart phone app for that, pressed ‘lock’ and received a positive confirmation on his phone a few minutes later. He locked his car from thousands of miles away – over the Internet,” said Kay.

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